The Dirty Secret of Email Marketing and Internet Service Providers

SPAMThere’s a dirty secret in the Email Industry. It’s the elephant in the room that no one talks about. No one can talk about it for fear of retribution by the very people who are supposed to be policing our Inbox.


That’s right. You heard it right here. I’ll repeat it…


One more time…


But Doug… what are you saying? That’s terrible! That defies what the entire industry tells us. It defies what ISPs tell us. It defies what ESPs tell us. It even defies what we know about SPAM.

The truth is that SPAM is not unsolicited email. SPAM is not email that is sent without permission. What SPAM is is unwanted email. UNWANTED.

Today, I can sign up for an email from a reputable source, called GOODMSG. I provide them my permission to send me emails as often as they would like, even allowing them in fine print, to send me offers on behalf of companies they ‘do business with’.

  • GOODMSG provides their company address on every email.
  • GOODMSG has a feedback loop set up that automatically unsubscribes unwanteds.
  • GOODMSG prominently displays an unsubscribe link.
  • GOODMSG enables reverse DNS lookup.
  • GOODMSG applies to be whitelisted with every Internet Service Provider (that offers).
  • GOODMSG enlists Deliverability Consultants to maintain communications with the ISPs.

After I get 6 months of email, I click the Junk Email button of my ISP when GOODMSG sends a lame offer. Other subscribers do the same.

Guess what?!

GOODMSG, the reputable advertiser, just became a SPAMMER. Permission-based, double-optin, CAN-SPAM compliant, 1-click unsubscribe… they did everything right, but now they are a SPAMMER.

As a SPAMMER, they are blacklisted. Their IP address is now blocked. Their other clients who want the email won’t get it. Their reputation is ruined. Perhaps they switch to a new ESP. Perhaps they switch to a new IP address. They have to do something, since their email can’t make it to the Inbox. Perhaps they even go out of business. Their crime? A weak, UNWANTED, message.

Who’s to blame for this? GOODMSG? The subscriber?


Who is to blame is the Internet Service Provider, specifically, the key Email agent-providing ISPs – Yahoo!, Google, Live (Hotmail, MSN), AOL. They are to blame because they have failed to protect us against real SPAM. They utilize flawed reputation systems, they don’t share data, they don’t provide tools for reputable sources to become good stewards. Instead, they ignore the billions and billions of emails sent by the real SPAMMERS who don’t follow the rules, don’t care about reputation, don’t care about permission, cycle their IP Addresses and bypass all of the checks and balances that reputable marketers utilize.

It’s a lot like the Drug-Free Signs at the local High School. The only people that are Drug-Free are the people who were already Drug-Free. The drug dealers still walk the sidewalks and hallways, laughing at the signs as they pass them by.

I spoke about permission earlier. The problem with permission is that there is no system in place for ISPs to ensure that you provided permission. ESPs require permission as a stop-gap against the risk of poor deliverability and junk email reporting. However, the ISP and ESP NEVER share the process of permission.

Someone needs to begin asking why. Someone needs to answer to the billions of SPAM messages that flow right through while the ‘good’ emails can’t get through and businesses suffer. The ISPs go on and on about permission, permission, permission. They don’t care about permission… they only care about how many people click that junk email button. That’s all they have to work with. As a marketer, put out a bad email message to your subscribers, and watch out! You’ll be blocked and labeled a SPAMMER in no time.

What ISPs should be doing to fight real SPAM

  1. Provide Opt-In APIs for any Email Service Provider or Advertiser who wishes to responsibly send email.
  2. Share Opt-In data with other ISPs to ensure responsible marketers aren’t penalized.
  3. Stop SPAMMERS from using ISPs to send email! Did you know that the United States is the worst SPAMMER? Are you really telling me that we can find a child pornographer in hours but SPAMMERS can operate for years? You’re telling me that monitoring hardware can’t see and stop this incredible volume of traffic?
  4. If I allowed people to transport drugs in my car, I’d be in jail. How come the ISPs that transport SPAM aren’t being held accountable?
  5. Provide a means for emails to be GUARANTEED delivery to the Inbox. Email is no longer a secondary means of communication. I get credit alerts and banking alerts in my inbox. It’s unconscionable that these emails would ever wind up in a Junk Email folder.

If UPS, FedEx and the USPS stopped showing up to your warehouse to ship out your products, you’d be suing them. Someone is going to sue an ISP soon for not delivering email that was permission-based and followed every rule. These companies need to be held accountable for this mess they got us into and refuse to get us out of.


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    Good post, though I think your point #4 leads down a slippery road. If ISPS would become liable for what their customers send, they would become way more conservative as to their clientèle.

    Or, in other words, you cannot blame the Postal Service for mail bombs. Would you like Dell to be jailed when a hacker uses their laptop to break into a bank account? Should AT&T be held responsible for a crime organized by cell phone? Shurely not. The carrier should not be responsible for what is carried. The sender is.


    Imagine if businesses could bill known spammers for lost productivity. With the right, powerful (and: enforced) laws, Spam should be a thing of the past.

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      That’s an excellent point, modifoo. It would definitely be something where intent would have to be proven. If an ISP knew they were selling bandwidth for use of spamming, they should be held accountable.

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    Attitudes like those expressed in this blog are exactly the reason why ISPs police e-mail marketing : those who send unrequested mail are invariably blinded by their greed into believing that they are doing nothing wrong. I’ve got news for you, moron: the definition of spam has *everything* to do with permission. People like you will never understand that, though, which is why ISPs are only too happy to block you and leave you to bleat about being hard done by until the cows come home.

    • 7

      Rachel, you must have skipped past the entire post. Except for the moron part, my point is exactly what you are angry about. Please take the time to read through the ENTIRE article.

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    Great great article. Now some 9 years later the situation is even more dire. As I see it what we are seeing is giant corporate entities like Google controlling more and more what we do , say or think. This is the think edge of the wedge for censorship and it is designed to stop rational thinking and make us swallow all the propoganda and lies that the global corporate machine wants to feed to us – using “sovereign” Governments as their administrators. Terrifying stuff and yet incredibly you hear little being discussed about this. The majority – the sheep just seem to accept it all and to some degree worship the Googles of the world as God. Certainly nothing good will come of this. For those legitimate email marketers – and those who subscribed to them because they WANTED their content (ie beneficial, wholesome and empowering content) good luck! Your businesses are going to be destroyed. This global amorphouse corporate mass does NOT want you to be empowered in any way. And so it will not only read your mails, it will stop them from being sent out – mail fraud in the truest sense of the word.

    Perhaps online businesses should identify every email that was not delivered and place a dollar value on it eg $1 per email in lost business income/value and sue in a global class action for non-delivery. That might make make them think! So if say 10,000,000 legitimate emails are not delivered globally daily the claim would son add up?

What do you think?

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